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4 December 1980
My Life with Nye 
by Jennie Lee.
Cape, 277 pp., £8.50, November 1980, 0 224 01785 3
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Debts of Honour 
by Michael Foot.
Davis-Poynter, 240 pp., £9.50, November 1980, 0 7067 6243 6
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... If Jennie Lee, Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot had achieved Cabinet rank together in the 1960s, the United Kingdom would be in better shape now. ‘That is my truth,’ as Bevan used to say. ‘Now tell me yours.’ What have they in common, though, this leftist Gang of Three, the Englishman, the Welshman and the Scot, Bevan, his wife and his friend, all from such different backgrounds? They have similar opinions, of course: but what of their human and moral nature, their style of writing and speaking? It may be worth noting that all three are childless and parentful: all three have been devoted to Protestant Christian parents and have (to my regret) firmly rejected the faith of their fathers ...

Taking the Blame

Jean McNicol: Jennie Lee

7 May 1998
Jennie LeeA Life 
by Patricia Hollis.
Oxford, 459 pp., £25, November 1997, 0 19 821580 0
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... In 1957 Jennie Lee wrote a long letter, which she did not send, to her husband Aneurin Bevan, asking him to give her ‘a little self-confidence’. The end of the letter makes it clear that Lee is really talking to herself: I don’t know quite what to do for the best. Shut up and take the consequences, sit tight on the safety valve, ease things a little by small squeals that humiliate me more than they annoy you or pretend that I am being ‘unselfish’ by not asking for your co-operation, by deceiving you into believing that all is well, a sick woman needs only a few more vitamin pills and she will cease bothering about anything except weeds in her garden ...

The First Protest

Stephen Frears

24 May 2018
... government sacking an artist, a cultural hero. In England the minister of the arts was Jennie Lee, the widow of Aneurin Bevan, and my brother and I had painted slogans around Nottingham when an incoming Tory council cancelled the building of the new Nottingham Playhouse. I went off to work on Lindsay Anderson’s if … ., cutting out the ...

Bevan’s Boy

R.W. Johnson

24 March 1994
Michael Foot 
by Mervyn Jones.
Gollancz, 570 pp., £20, March 1994, 0 575 05197 3
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... the Commons was a sort of cathedral in that rhetorical tradition. Similarly, he denounced Attlee and Bevin for subscribing, as Jones puts it, ‘to the Tory belief that British national interests, not ideological sympathies, should he the mainspring of foreign policy’. At Oxford Foot (then still a Liberal) was, predictably, President of the Union but ...
2 March 1989
Breach of Promise: Labour in Power 1964-1970 
by Clive Ponting.
Hamish Hamilton, 433 pp., £15.95, February 1989, 0 241 12683 5
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James Maxton 
by Gordon Brown.
Fontana, 336 pp., £4.95, February 1988, 0 00 637255 4
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Forward! Labour Politics in Scotland 1888-1988 
edited by Ian Donnachie, Christopher Harvie and Ian Wood.
Polygon, 184 pp., £19.50, January 1989, 0 7486 6001 1
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... the list of entitlements to mothers and children. In 1932, he led the ILP out of the Labour Party. Jennie Lee was a fellow Scot who went with him. ‘Yes, you will be pure all right,’ Nye Bevan chided her: ‘But remember, at the price of impotency.’ Others accused Maxton of being too lazy to want government office. Brown’s summing-up, which is more ...


Frank Kermode: What Went On at the Arts Council

4 December 1986
... at 105 Piccadilly is said to have changed since the days when Lord Goodman was chairman and Jennie Lee Minister for the Arts. Among the cuts advertised in The Glory of the Garden, and later implemented, was a reduction of 50 per cent in the allocation to literature, accompanied by the abolition of the Literature Department. Fifteen or so years ago ...

Darling Clem

Paul Addison

17 April 1986
Clement Attlee 
by Trevor Burridge.
Cape, 401 pp., £20, January 1986, 0 224 02318 7
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The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-1945 
edited by Ben Pimlott.
Cape in association with the London School of Economics, 913 pp., £40, February 1986, 9780224020657
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Loyalists and Loners 
by Michael Foot.
Collins, 315 pp., £15, March 1986, 0 00 217583 5
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... of disbelief, or the cheeky irreverence of an iconoclast. But not so: he is hooked on Clement Attlee. Burridge first became interested in Attlee while researching a book on the Labour Party and the Second World War. Suspecting that Attlee had been underrated, he embarked on a ...

A Babylonian Touch

Susan Pedersen: Weimar in Britain

6 November 2008
‘We Danced All Night’: A Social History of Britain between the Wars 
by Martin Pugh.
Bodley Head, 495 pp., £20, July 2008, 978 0 224 07698 2
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... Miners’ Federation, does not; the charismatic Aneurin Bevan figures (albeit for his marriage to Jennie Lee rather than his politics), but Ernest Bevin, the period’s most adept wage negotiator, does not. These men lived and breathed the politics of class: the divide between employer and worker was, for them, primordial and almost impassable; the ...


Owen Hatherley: Nye Bevan

6 May 2015
Nye: The Political Life of Aneurin Bevan 
by Nicklaus Thomas-Symonds.
I.B. Tauris, 316 pp., £25, October 2014, 978 1 78076 209 8
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... where he began his political career. Although he had the backing of the prime minister, Clement Attlee, and although there was cross-party support for the Beveridge Report, which committed the government to some form of universal healthcare, the NHS was forced through in the teeth of opposition from the British Medical Association. One of its achievements was ...

As the toffs began to retreat

Neal Ascherson: Declinism

22 November 2018
What We Have Lost: The Dismantling of Great Britain 
by James Hamilton-Paterson.
Head of Zeus, 360 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 1 78497 235 6
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The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A 20th-Century History 
by David Edgerton.
Allen Lane, 681 pp., £30, June 2018, 978 1 84614 775 3
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... means dominated or even initiated by Labour. It came to be the postwar Britain not only of the Attlee governments but – in varying degrees – of all administrations up to the end of the 1970s. This is where Edgerton proclaims war on a certain strain of ‘declinism’. It’s common to read accounts of how the war bankrupted Britain and prevented economic ...
16 April 1981
The Backbench Diaries of Richard Crossman 
edited by Janet Morgan.
Hamish Hamilton/Cape, 1136 pp., £15, March 1981, 0 241 10440 8
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... This is a record of the inner workings of the Labour Party during the transition from the Attlee era to the Wilson years. The period covered saw the Bevanite revolt in the early 1950s, the subsequent emergence of a revisionist critique of socialism, and the efforts by Hugh Gaitskell to fight and fight again to save the party which many of his political ...

Dastardly Poltroons

Jonathan Fenby: Madame Chiang Kai-shek

21 October 2010
The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China 
by Hannah Pakula.
Weidenfeld, 787 pp., £25, January 2010, 978 0 297 85975 8
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... meant. But the generally accepted story (told, it’s true, by Chiang’s second wife, known as Jennie, whom he had discarded) suggests a different set of motives. The matchmaker was Ailing, the most astute and crafty of the sisters. She had identified Chiang as the coming ruler and was overheard remarking that he needed a new wife: she dismissed ...

The Angry Men

Jean McNicol: Harriet Harman

14 December 2017
A Woman’s Work 
by Harriet Harman.
Allen Lane, 405 pp., £20, February 2017, 978 0 241 27494 1
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The Women Who Shaped Politics 
by Sophy Ridge.
Coronet, 295 pp., £20, March 2017, 978 1 4736 3876 1
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... by helping their fathers and husbands earn a decent ‘family wage’. Labour women MPs like Jennie Lee, first elected in a by-election in 1929, saw married women’s interests as subsumed in their husbands’ and working women’s interests as ‘sectional demands’: ‘We cannot ask for equal pay,’ she told Castle, ‘when the miners’ wages ...

Good Fibs

Andrew O’Hagan: Truman Capote

2 April 1998
Truman Capote: In which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career 
by George Plimpton.
Picador, 498 pp., £20, February 1998, 0 330 36871 0
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... Lillie Mae, his broken-winged father Arch Persons, his blousy maiden aunts, Sookie and Callie and Jennie, who brought him up as a nearly-girl – he raced for the glorylands. Capote’s young life is a small, operatic cliché, a story of abandonment in a slow-burning Southern hollow, all the world held at a distance, all of a boy’s wonder clouded with local ...
23 May 1996
by Leo Bersani.
Harvard, 208 pp., £15.95, April 1995, 0 674 40619 2
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... a number of local clergy who ran Sailors’ Homes and otherwise ministered to the Fleet. After repeated social and sexual contact with these ‘fairies’, the decoys turned their evidence over to the authorities, and as a result of their testimony more than twenty sailors were arrested in April 1919, along with another 16 civilians in July. In ...

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